Among my friends, I am known for the obscurity of my reading choices. In fact, I even split with one of my old friends because he thought most of my reading was not sufficiently dogmatic in a Marxist sense. Of course, he read about eight books a year, while I typically read somewhere between 150 and 160. Call me ugly, call me fat, call me vicious even—but don’t attack my reading choices.
Here are seven authors whose work I have read this year who are relatively unknown even to more literate readers, but they are all excellent writers. And several of them have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Ivo Andrić (1892-1975). Bosnian Serb.1921-1996) Nobel Prize. Most famous work: The Bridge on the Drina.
Nicolas Bouvier (1929-1998). Swiss. Travel writer. Most famous work: The Way of the World.
George Mackay Brown (1921-1996). Scottish from the Orkneys. Poet and fiction writer. Most famous work: Collected Poetry.
Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995). American. Mysteries. Most famous work: Strangers on a Train.
Lászlo Krasznahorkai (1954-Present). Hungarian. Novelist. Most famous work: The Melancholy of Resistance.
Patrick Modiano (1945-Present). French. Novelist. Nobel Prize. Most famous work: Pedigree.
Derek Walcott (1930-2017). Caribbean. Poet. Nobel Prize. Most famous work: Omeros.
If you recognize two or more of the above writers, you have my congratulations. I have read multiple works of five of the above. I plan to read more by Bouvier and Walcott in the coming six months.
I have spent half of the last week recovering from Covid-19, and half reading a superb novel about Bosnia in the early 19th century written by a Bosnian Serb named Ivo Andrić. Bosnian Chronicle describes life in the North Bosnian backwater town of Travnik when France opens a consulate there, and Austria follows suit, around 1807.
Described in loving detail by Andrić are the staffs of the two consulates and their families and aides; the three Ottoman Pashas in charge during the period covered and their aides; the local begs (first families) of the town; the religious leaders of the Islamic, Catholic, Jewish, and Orthodox Christian factions; the local doctors; and various peasants. The net result is a layered picture of Bosnian society and various French and Austrian “interlopers” during the height of the Napoleonic Era.
The book ends with Napoleon’s capture and exile on Elba, necessitating the closing of the French consulate, followed in short order by the closing of the Austrian consulate.
My Hungarian upbringing tends to make me more interested in Central and Eastern Europe than most other Americans. Fortunately, there is no lack of great literature east of Vienna: Ivo Andrić, for instance, a native of Travnik and a Bosniak himself, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961 for The Bridge of the Drina. I have also read his Omar Pasha Latas: Marshal to the Sultan, which is available in a New York Review edition.
I turn to the East to look for literary treasures, and I have not been disappointed.